A lesson on Kulongoski’s taxing ways

During the 1984 presidential debates leading up to Ronald Reagan’s reelection, a clueless Walter Mondale (D-MN), pointing at President Reagan, uttered these famous words:

“He won’t tell you that he is going to raise your taxes, I just did.”

Mondale went on to get his butt kicked in a landslide victory by one of history’s most popular presidents. And that was the last time a prominent Democrat publicly acknowledged his or her intention to raise taxes during a campaign. Now that doesn’t mean that they don’t intend to raise your taxes, it simply means they won’t publicly acknowledge it.

Take for instance, Gov. Ted Kulongoski. During his 2002 campaign for governor, Kulongoski with jaw jutting and eyes steely, looked deep into the television camera and stated that Oregon would simply have to learn to live within its means and promised not to raise the taxes for Oregon’s working men and women.

But the ink was hardly dry on his certificate of election than Kulongoski backed a massive tax increase referred to the voters under Measure 28. On January 28, 2003, the voters soundly rejected that tax increase. (Given Kulongoski’s narrow margin of victory over Kevin Mannix in that election, one wonders whether the results would have been different if Kulongoski had been honest with voters about his intention to support the tax increase.)

In the aftermath of the defeat of Measure 28, Kulongoski gathered with his Democrat colleagues in the House and the Senate and once again intoned that Oregonian’s had sent a clear message that they wanted Oregon to live within its means. He stated that new taxes were “off the table” for addressing Oregon’s budgetary concerns. Then House Minority Leader, Deborah Kafoury (D-Portland) pounded the table and announced that she was done fooling around and was there to take names and kick – well you know – derrière. Then Sen. Minority Leader, Kate Brown (D-Portland), while privately arguing that voters didn’t know what they were doing, joined in the public chorus of tough talk and grim faces.

And again, before the ink was dry on the Democrats’ press releases, Gov. Kulongoski and the Democrats (joined by a few dissident Republicans) tried to bypass the voters and enact an even larger tax increase. Despite an intentional reduction in the timeline by the legislature, Citizens for a Sound Economy (now FreedomWorks) and Taxpayer Association of Oregon hastily gathered about twice the signatures necessary to refer the tax increase (Measure 30) to the voters. On February 3, 2004, the voters once again overwhelmingly rejected the tax increase. Kulongoski had been in office for less than thirteen months and he had twice broken his campaign promise not to raise taxes.

But the story doesn’t end there. Gov. Kulongoski, having failed once in a referral and again in trying to blow one past the voters, decided that the direct, frontal approach to raising taxes wasn’t going to work. So the governor tried a new tack – a hide-the-ball tack. He and his Democrat legislative colleagues supported by their friends in the public employees unions (the chief beneficiaries of any tax increase) began talking about reducing “tax expenditures.” For the uninitiated, “tax expenditures” is code for raising your taxes by reducing your deductions. It arises out of some bizarre notion by the big government crowd that all the money you earn is somehow the property of the government and that any of it that they allow you to keep is a “government expenditure”, thus the term “tax expenditure.” That proposition failed to catch fire in the last legislative session primarily because House Speaker Karen Minnis (R- Wood Village) and the Republican controlled House wanted nothing to do with such a perversion.

Are you keeping track? That’s three times in less than three years that Kulongoski made a run at raising your taxes.

And in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” Kulongoski, his Democrat legislative colleagues and his pals in the public employees unions are now demanding that the government keep the popular “kicker” – all $880M. (In order of magnitude, that approximates the biennial tax increases in Measure 28 and Measure 30.)

Let’s be clear, you can raise taxes by increasing the rate (Measures 28 and 30, by reducing the deductions (“tax expenditures”) and by refusing to give the refunds back (the “kicker”). In each instance, it will result in less money in the pockets of taxpayers and more unsustainable spending by the government. (By the way, Kulongoski wants to add the $880M to the already projected spending increase of $1.1B – a nearly $2B increase in the growth of government.)

Okay, to summarize. Kulongoski ran on a platform of fiscal restraint and no new taxes. We are three and one-half years into his term. In the space of that time he has made a run at raising your taxes four times. Come on, Ted, at least do a “Mondale” and tell the people during this election that you intend to raise their taxes.

The gubernatorial election could come down to something as simple as whether you will support the candidate who broke his promise about “no new taxes” (Kulongoski), the candidate who supports a $1.1B tax increase through a sales tax (Westlund), or the candidate who promises to cut government by ten percent (Saxton). You decide.